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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 21

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Verses 1-17



Our Lord had now spent nearly three years in his holy ministry, furnishing to the people the proofs of his Messiahship; he now proceeds by a public demonstration to make proclamation of his claim to the title. He makes entrance into David’s royal city as the Prince of peace, David’s son, and heir to all the fulfilments of prophecy in regard to the Messiah.

Even at the present day there are some who, like Strauss and Hennell, maintain that our Lord really designed to head a military movement, and, by delivering the Jews from the Roman sway, become a temporal monarch. This triumphal entrance into Jerusalem is a main fact upon which they rely in supporting this absurd theory. But all the circumstances go to show that the whole performance was, on the contrary, a purposed demonstration of his character, as being, in contrast with worldly heroes, a prince of peace, a founder of a religious kingdom, and a conqueror with the weapons of truth.

1 . He had previously announced his own approaching death. He had come to Jerusalem to lay down his life. Matthew 20:17-19; Mark 10:32-34; Luke 18:31-34; John 11:7-16.

2 . His followers are wholly unarmed, and without military plan or equipments. They have not spears, but palm branches; they have not trumpets, but simply the voice of psalms. Their leader is not mounted upon the proud horse, (an animal forbidden to Israel on account of its warlike character,) but upon the ass, a symbol of peace and humility.

3 . The Roman government is not in the least disturbed. The jealous Pilate does not even hear of the joyous procession. When Jesus is subsequently brought before him they are utter strangers. It was the time of the passover; great multitudes were crowding the city, and the tumult of the Saviour’s entrance would not be distinguished by the Romans from many other festal excitements.

4 . Our Saviour, after the next symbolic act, the cleansing of the temple, proceeds into the sacred places, and commences teaching the people. But as, on the one hand, his enemies dare not touch him before their time, so, on the other, he avoids their treachery by spending his nights at Bethany among his friends. He keeps his foes at bay until he has had full time to make an impression that is never to be effaced upon the public mind, and has laid the indestructible foundations of his religious kingdom. He then, in due time, submits to the death he came to meet. He passes through scenes of suffering which are necessary to the fulfilment of prophecy, and in their very worst rage his enemies are but executing his own expectations.

Palm Sunday.

1. And when they drew nigh This was as we suppose on Sunday, the first day of the PASSION WEEK. It was not the Jewish Sabbath, but the day after, like our Monday. The next Sunday, the day of the resurrection, was the first Sunday-sabbath.

Drew nigh unto Jerusalem On his route from Jericho. Come to Bethphage Mark and Luke say, “nigh to Bethphage and Bethany.” This implies that the two places were very near each other; but there is much difference of opinion as to which was the nearest to Jerusalem. The order of the names would suggest that coming from Jericho Bethphage occurred first. But the evangelists may have used the order habitual with the inhabitants of Jerusalem. No reliable traces exist of Bethphage. Bethany (signifying the place of dates) was the residence of Lazarus and Mary. It stood near the foot of the eastern side of the Mount of Olives, and was a half hour’s walk, or nearly two miles, from the limits of Jerusalem.

Bethphage signifies the place of figs, and was so called because those fruits were either cultivated or sold at that place.

The mount of Olives A mountainous ridge on the east of Jerusalem, separated from that city by the Valley of Jehoshaphat. It has three peaks or shoulders, the highest of which is 175 Paris feet above the summit of Mount Zion; so that the mountain commands a complete view of Jerusalem. It received its name from its abundance of olive trees.

Verse 2

2. The village over against you The Greek preposition rendered over against, simply signifies before or in front of you. Our Lord had spent the previous night at Bethany. If Bethphage was the village before them, as their faces were towards Jerusalem, that village must have been west of Bethany. Such was probably the fact. Matthew mentions Bethphage only, and says they came to it; that is, it was now before them.

An ass tied, and a colt with her The horse was an animal of pride and war; the ass, of humility and peace. Yet there was nothing mean in the humble state which our Lord now assumed. Even Solomon, the Jewish prince of peace, rode on a mule in state. 1 Kings 1:38.

Verse 3

3. If any man say aught Whether owner or not. The Lord This may imply that the owner was a follower of Jesus, and would recognize the fact that the taking of the ass was for his use. But the phrase any man seems to imply that such would be the power of that name, that the mind of any questioner would be supernaturally silenced by this answer.

Verse 4

4. All this… might be fulfilled Our Saviour’s purpose in this entire performance was, as above said, to identify himself before the world as the Messiah predicted by Zechariah as a meek king.

Verse 5

5. Tell ye the daughter of Zion This is a memorable prophecy of the Messiah in his humble and peaceful character. It is thus translated from the Hebrew by Hengstenberg: “Rejoice greatly, thou daughter of Zion! shout for joy, thou daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, thy king comes to thee; he is just and protected of God, afflicted and riding upon a foal the son of an ass.” The prophecy of the entire preceding part of the ninth chapter of Zechariah, Hengstenberg holds to be a clear prediction of the conquests of Alexander the Great. But with these words at the ninth verse commences, in contrast, the descriptive picture of Jesus the Prince of peace. It was applied by the ancient Jews to the Messiah.

Daughter of Zion The pious part of the Jewish people. And a colt the foal of an ass Strauss and ether objectors have maintained that this is simply a Hebrew parallelism, in which the last clause is but an echo of the former, both possessing the same meaning. Thereby the colt foal in the last clause would be the same as the ass in the first clause, both being terms for one and the same animal. But Hengstenberg justly denies that by the laws of Hebrew parallelism the two would necessarily mean the same individual animal. In the passage Genesis 49:11: “Binding his foal unto the vine, his ass’s colt unto the choice vine,” no one would claim that the foal and the colt were necessarily the same individual. In the present case it was our Lord’s purpose to make his procession with both animals into Jerusalem a sort of visible embodiment of the prophet’s words. Nor must this voluntary act upon the part of our Lord be looked upon as being a literal and final fulfilment of the prophecy. The prophet does not by these words intend to describe this or any particular scene. He only takes the riding upon the ass as the image to illustrate the meekness of the Messianic King. And our Lord, in thus acting the image of the prophet in visible form, does call the attention of the Jewish nation to his claim to be the King predicted by this prophetic image. This our Saviour performed at the passover, when the Jewish nation was, by representatives, present to behold; when perhaps millions of the nation were actually present to bear the news to all parts of the land.

Verse 7

7. Put on them their clothes The clothes were put by the disciples on the beasts by way of a saddle. Both beasts were brought, not because our Lord was expected literally to ride both in the course of a journey of two miles’ length, but to exhibit the appearance of a regal relay. Set him thereon From which cavillers have objected that the language makes him seated on both animals at once. To obviate this, some have made the word them refer to the clothes. But this is an unnatural evasion of an imaginary difficulty.

He was literally seated on one at a time, but virtually mounted upon both, as they were both his riding equipment. They were a common conveyance upon which he was borne.

Mark describes the colt as one whereon never man sat. This was not, we think, as Hengstenberg maintains, to indicate humility, but sacredness. So Luke 23:53. Our Lord was “laid in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man was laid before.” And so our Lord was born of a pure virgin. His birth, his triumph, his tomb, were thus alike. His appearance, his history, and his departure are thus indicated to be above the level of ordinary humanity.

Verse 8

8. A very great multitude No intimation is given that this scene was prepared. Everything seems supernaturally spontaneous; every man performs his part, and is in his place as exactly as the ass and colt. It seems like a drama managed by a sacred and divine power, in which everything moves of itself. Spread their garments in the way These garments were the abba, or hyke, being the loose blanket or cloak worn over the tunic or shirt. See note on Matthew 5:40. To celebrate the arrival of some great hero by spreading carpets, or still more their garments, was a Greek and Roman custom, and is so natural as to be in use in modern times even in Christian countries. Garlands were strewed in Washington’s path by his admiring countrymen. Robinson mentions a striking instance which took place in Bethlehem under his own eye, when the people threw their garments under the feet of the English consul, whose aid they were imploring. In 2 Kings 9:13, it was used as a royal honour to a new-made sovereign. Others cut down branches from the trees Stanley calls attention to the change of the tense in the verb rendered cut, by which it is to be rendered were cutting. That is, while one part were strewing their garments in token of humble affection, the others were cutting the branches of the palm, the emblem of victory, to strew his path. Others still, according to Mark 11:8, cut and strewed mattings or twisted weavings of the palm twigs.

The palm is the most queenly of trees. The ancient coins which bore the inscription Judea Capta, represented Judea as a maiden sitting under a palm. See note on Matthew 2:18. Judea was anciently pre-eminently the land of palms. Jericho and Palmyra were both cities of the palm.

The palm rises with a tall, straight shaft, and spreads its leaves like rays from a centre; so that the tree itself has been held an emblem of life. The leaves of the mature tree are six or eight feet long, and when spread out are very broad. In Revelation 7:9, palms of victory are borne in the hands of the saints.

The way “Three pathways lead, and probably always led from Bethany to Jerusalem; one a steep footpath over the summit of Mount Olivet; another by a long circuit over its northern shoulder, down the valley which parts it from Scopus; the third the natural continuation of the road by which mountain travellers always approach the city of Jericho, over the southern shoulder, between the summit which contains the tombs of the prophets, and that called the ‘Mount of Offence.’ There can be no doubt that this last is the road of the entry of Christ, not only because, as just stated, it is and must always have been the usual approach for horsemen and for large caravans, such as then were concerned, but also because this is the only one of the three approaches which meets the requirements of the narrative which follows.” Stanley.

Verse 9

9. Multitudes that went before, and that followed The procession formed in two separate parts. The foremost led the way as an advance guard; then Jesus, riding; and last, the rear band. Stanley assumes that the front band came from the city, and the rear from Bethany, and thus describes the scene:

“Two vast streams of people met that day. The one poured out from the city, and as they came through the gardens, whose clusters of palms rose on the southeastern corner of Olivet, they cut down the long branches, as was their wont at the feast of tabernacles, and moved upward toward Bethany with loud shouts of welcome. From Bethany streamed forth the crowds who had assembled there on the previous night, and who name testifying to the great event at the sepulchre of Lazarus. The road soon loses sight of Bethany. It is now a rough, but still broad and well-defined mountain track, winding over rock and loose stones; a steep declivity below on the left; the stooping shoulder of Olivet above it on the right; fig-trees, below and above, here and there growing out of the rocky soil.

“The two streams met midway. Half of the vast mass turning round preceded, the other half followed. Gradually the long procession swept up and over the ridge, where first begins ‘the descent of the Mount of Olives’ toward Jerusalem. At this point the first view is caught of the southeastern corner of the city. The temple and the more northern portions are hid by the slope of Olivet on the right; what is seen is only Mount Zion, then covered with houses to its base, surmounted by the castle of Herod, on the supposed site of the palace of David, from which that portion of Jerusalem, emphatically called the ‘city of David,’ derived its name. It was at this precise point, as He drew near at the descent of the Mount of Olives, (may it not have been from the site thus opening upon them?) that the shout of triumph burst forth from the multitude: ‘Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.’” Stanley.

Hosanna This is the Hebrew word for save now, being the original of the first two words of Psalms 118:25. It was a supplicatory phrase for the person in respect to whom it was uttered, expressive of congratulation and triumphal acclamation. It was customarily used at the feast of tabernacles and other festivals, all of which were commemorative of the Messiah to come. Now they performed the celebration as for the Messiah, truly come. Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord That is, as his ambassador. In the highest In the highest degree, or the highest strains. Or, as most commentators think, in the highest heavens.

John informs us that it was the people that were with him when he raised Lazarus, whose testimony excited an enthusiasm in his favour. For this cause it was that the people met him. John 12:17-18. Luke adds that the Pharisees requested Jesus to rebuke the applause. When Jesus drew nigh to the city he wept over it. Luke 19:41. Stanley thus traces the event:

“Again the procession advanced. The road descends a slight declivity, and the glimpse of the city is again withdrawn behind the intervening ridge of Olivet. A few moments, and the path mounts again; it climbs a rugged ascent, it reaches a ridge of smooth rocks, and in an instant the whole city bursts into view. Then must have risen before the traveller the Temple tower; then must have spread the Temple courts, then the magnificent city, with its background long since vanished away of gardens and suburbs, or the western plateau behind. Immediately below is the Valley of the Kedron, here seen in its greatest depth, as it joins the Valley of Hinnom, and thus giving full effect to the great peculiarity of Jerusalem, seen only on its eastern side, its situation as of a city rising out of a deep abyss. It is hardly possible to doubt that this rise and turn of the road, this rocky ledge, was the exact point where the multitude paused again, and ‘He, when he beheld the city, wept over it.’”

Verse 10

10. All the city was moved The masses and the common people from Galilee, brought by the passover, who were upon his side, were moved with joy and gratulation. The Jewish rulers, especially of the party of the Pharisees, were moved with bitter opposition, but were held in check by the popular influences. John 12:19. The Romans saw nothing sufficiently alarming in the excitement to give it their attention.

Who is this? This question was perhaps put by the home population of Jerusalem, and was answered by the new comers from Galilee and other places where our Lord had taught and wrought miracles.

Verse 11

11. Prophet of Nazareth of Galilee They do not style him Messiah, or king, or conqueror. He is simply a prophet.

Our Lord’s deeds of public authority are not terminated with his symbolical royal entry. He must perform a symbolical act of supreme priesthood. For he is both king and priest; Lord of the kingdom of God and the priest of the new ritual. And as in the former transaction he had fulfilled the memorable prophecy of Zechariah, so now he fulfils the promise in Malachi 3:1-3. He should come, as Lord, suddenly, into his temple, and purify the sons of Levi. And the same remark may be made as in regard to the triumphal entry. Our Lord performed the act which is pictured in the image of the prophet.

A somewhat similar cleansing was performed by our Lord at the opening of his ministry, as now at its close. John 2:13-18. Doubtless Alford states the true reason why the first three Gospels omit any mention of that first cleansing, namely, that those three are nearly exclusively Galilean Gospels, until this entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem.

Verse 12

12. Jesus went into the temple of God Historically, there was a FIRST TEMPLE and a SECOND.

The First, or Solomon’s Temple, was the proper successor of the tabernacle built by Moses in the wilderness, (see note on Matthew 17:4,) being to it as a palace compared with a most humble cot, but upon the same model. It was indeed intended to be the house of God, the palace of Jehovah, God and King of the Jews. The temple or house proper was an oblong in form, and divided into two rooms; the interior one being the holy of holies, the exterior or front one the holy place. In the former was the ark containing the law, the lid of which was the mercy-seat, upon which rested the Shekinah, or cloud of the visible Divine Presence. Over this mercy-seat two cherubim bent face to face; whence God dwelt between the cherubim. As Jehovah here dwelt, so the forward room contained his furniture, namely, the golden candlestick, the table of presence-bread, (show-bread,) the altar of incense or perfumery. The priests and Levites were his royal servants. Before the door of the temple stood the great brazen altar, upon which were sacrificed (as the royal food) the offered beasts.

Around the temple building were the temple courts or enclosures. The first was the court of the priests, into which none but the priestly order might enter. Enclosing this was the court of Israel, into which all male Jews might enter; and fronting these the court of women. Gentiles were admitted only to the outermost court, enclosing the whole. Each inner court rose, as in terraces, higher than the outer; so that the temple building mounted conspicuous above the whole.

The Second Temple, built upon the same site and model, after the captivity, and rebuilt by Herod the Great, was that in which our Saviour now entered. The entire temple area was a square, with an eighth of a mile to each side. It was entered by nine magnificent gates. The inside of the outermost wall was lined with covered promenades, called porches or porticoes, with cedar roofs, supported by marble columns and with floors of smooth solid variegated marble. These porches were thirty cubits wide, and the south-side one was thrice as wide. There was a synagogue room, in the south porch, which was the place where religious services were performed. In this synagogue it was that the doctors discoursed, that Christ taught, and the disciples daily assembled with one accord. (Acts 2:6.) Hither resorted for recreation or converse Jew or Gentile. From the summit of the wall the perpendicular descent was unbroken to the bottom of the Kedron. At the southwest corner was the lofty pinnacle where the Saviour was tempted of Satan to leap into the awful chasm below.

Click image for full-size version

1 Stone for censer. 2 Show bread bakery. 3 Guard room. 4 Treasure room. 5 Single cloister. 6 Golden table. 7 Golden incense. 8 Golden Candelabrum. 9 Stone steps. 10 Ascent to altar. 11 Gate of Nicanor. 12 Apartments for the deposit of sacrificial wine and oil. 13 Rooms for the ceremony of cleansing lepers. 14 Galleried cloister. 15 Treasure chests. 16 Room for the ceremony of release from a Nazarite vow. 17 Chambers for the deposit of wood.

18 Beautiful Gate. 19 Porch. 20 Marble table for fresh show bread. 21 Golden table for stale show bread. *Steps.

Near the northern wall stood the Tower of ANTONIA, overtopping the temple, in which the Roman garrison was placed to maintain order. It was a square building, with a side of three hundred feet. A subterranean passage led from the tower to the court of the Gentiles, so that the Roman soldiery could enter at any time to suppress tumult. Besides this, the Jews had a small body of men, under a captain, to keep order about the temple grounds.

The walls of the temple were built of hard white stone, of stupendous size. From Mount Olivet the spectacle was truly magnificent. But the Jews held that these five ancient endowments were wanting to the second temple, namely, the Ark, the Urim and Thummim, the Fire from Heaven, the Shekinah, and the spirit of Prophecy. Yet in glorious fulfilment of the prophecy of Haggai, (ii, 9,) by the presence of Jesus the glory of the latter house has surpassed all the endowments of the temple of Solomon.

Jesus entered the Court of the Gentiles, for there it was that these abuses existed. As if to show their contempt of the Gentiles, the Jews had allowed this part to be filled with all the tumult of traffic. This was in direct contradiction to the prophecy quoted by our Lord, that God’s house should be “a house of prayer for all people.” Isaiah 56:7. Our Lord hereby indicates that under his dispensation the privileges of the Gentiles would be amply maintained.

Sold… bought Animals for temple sacrifice and other commodities. Money changers The Jewish money being alone accepted for the sacred treasure, brokers were always at hand to furnish it in exchange for the foreign coin. Doves Used in sacrifice by the poor.

Verse 13

13. Den of thieves Jeremiah 7:11: “Is this house which is called by my name become a den of robbers in thine eyes?” Den of thieves is a terrible antithesis to the house of God. The word den probably is an allusion to the caves and recesses of rocks in Judea in which robbers and bandits found shelter.

Verse 14

14. Blind… came to him in the temple Neander thinks it so strange that miracles should take place at this moment, that he pronounces the verses unhistorical! Verily, our Lord did not think the temple of God too sacred a place for deeds of mercy, nor the moment too valuable to put forth his power for poor humanity.

Verse 15

15. Children crying in the temple How fitting that childlike voices should shout the praises of Him who allowed not children to be forbidden to come to him! Children in the temple above will forever chant his praises, nor can there be a doubt that these children were moved by a divine impulse to utter these praises, which were so truly emblematic of the place of the child in the merciful dispensation of Christianity.

Verse 16

16. Hearest thou Dost thou hear how they call thee Son of David the king by descent the Messiah by title? Dost thou note that they are mere children that do this? Jesus shows them that even of old, the praises of children were the subject of his own father David’s psalms, and so no fit subject for present contempt and prohibition. Psalms 8:2.

Verse 17

17. Out of the city into Bethany The labors of this Sunday (the first day of the Passion Week) were now closed, and Jesus (as we are also told in Mark 11:11) left the city of his treacherous enemies for the night, and lodged with his friends at Bethany. Thus did Jesus by boldly defying the rulers, under popular favour, by day, and retreating from their jurisdiction by night, evade their machinations, and perform his ministry until his hour had come. On the morrow he returned to Jerusalem; and on the way the transaction of the following paragraph took place.

Verse 18

Monday of Passion Week.

§§ 112, 113. THE FIG TREE WITHERED, vv. AND ITS LESSON OF FAITH, Matthew 21:18-22 .

The triumphal entry, the cleansing of the temple, and the withering of the fig tree, are a series of miracles in the order of climax. But it is a climax of judgment. The first indicated a Messiah of peace to the Gentiles; the second a terrible reformation in God’s Church; and the third, the entire blasting of the Jewish pride and power. If the fig tree with its fair promise of leaves and its barrenness of fruit was the Jewish nation, its withering under his malediction was the perdition of the Jewish state and system.

18. In the morning Of Monday the second day of the Passion Week. He hungered He probably left Bethlehem before his breakfast, that he might attend the morning service at the temple.

Verse 19

19. Leaves only Like a hypocrite with a fair show of profession. No fruit. Mark says that “it was not yet the time of figs.” But the fig tree usually puts forth fruit before its leaves, and if this tree was able to put forth leaves, what defence had it for being fruitless? Or what business had it to be putting forth leaves, and so pretending fruit, if it were barren just like the rest? The Jewish nation had the leaves of a fair profession above all the nations; or, we may say, alone of the nations. But it was, like them, barren of fruit. No fruit… henceforward He that is wilfully barren may find himself given over to impotence. And after that he shall, like the fig tree, wither away.

Some have cavilled at this act of our Lord as being destructive and malignant in its character. But it was one of a series of symbolical acts, from which no one suffered. The fig tree was by the road side; and so, probably, the property of no one but the Creator; and doubtless He consented to be at that much expense to supply material for the symbol. Matthew now omits all notice of the farther events of Monday, in order to pursue the sequel of the fig tree. Mark and Luke inform us that the Lord spent the day in quiet teaching in the temple, while the hierarchy were plotting to destroy him.

Verse 20

Tuesday of Passion Week.

20. And when On Tuesday, the next morning after the cursing of the fig tree. They spent the night at Bethany, and were on their return to the city. They are struck with the suddenness of the fig tree’s withering, and Peter (Mark 11:21) calls our Lord’s attention to it.

Verse 21

21. If ye have faith, and doubt not Jesus does not explain the symbolical import of either the triumphal entry, the cleansing of the temple, or the withering of the fig tree. Their symbolism appears from the intrinsic character of the transactions. This lesson of faith is here drawn from the miracle, because Jesus is soon to leave them to their own moral strength, amid the state of surrounding ruin prefigured by the withered tree. This mountain Referring, perhaps, to Mount Olivet, over which they were passing.

Verse 22

22. Believing With a faith that God inspires and you exercise. God will not give pure faith for a prayer or a work which he will not fulfil, nor yet will he promise the fulfilment, unless you exercise the faith he empowers. Ye shall receive For God will not grant the power of faith for a gift; he will not grant either in kind or in equivalent.

Verse 23

§ 114. JESUS’S DISCOURSE WITH THE CHIEF PRIESTS IN THE TEMPLE, Matthew 21:23 to Matthew 22:14 .


23. Into the temple Our Lord persists calmly in the work of teaching, while he knows that danger besets him, and that death is close at hand.

By what authority doest thou these things? They ask this question, not because they do not know, but because they will not acknowledge. Jesus therefore proceeds to show them that they knew, and so compel them to the necessity of exposing their unwillingness to confess.

It was the province of the Sanhedrim to give authority to teachers in the temple, an authority which Jesus had never received.

Verse 25

25. The baptism of John And of course John’s mission. This mission and testimony they had once received. And having received it, they had acknowledged whence was the authority of Jesus for his miracles, his teachings, and his claims to the Messiahship. Why did ye not then believe him? Why did ye apostatize? and why do ye not even now receive the testimony of John, which explains the source of my authority, and answers your question?

Verse 26

26. All hold John as a prophet Even Herod, who slew him, trembled at his name as of a holy and God-sent man. The rulers, from political motives, have deserted John; but with all the ranks of the common people, even to the publicans and harlots, there is a deep feeling that John was a messenger of God. These feared the people, as Herod did before them, and, as Luke (Luke 20:6) informs us, they also feared a shower of stones.

Verse 27

27. We cannot tell That is, in the Greek, We know not. They would more truly have said, We know, but we do not like to confess. These teachers, who are the professed guides of the people, prepared to decide upon all questions, are now reduced to a “know not.” Neither tell I you If they had really not known, and had inquired in order to know, how readily would our Lord have answered them. But he now simply exposes their obstinacy to themselves and leaves them to reflect upon it. And to aid them in these reflections he gives them the following parable, which comes in close application.

Verse 28

28. What think ye? Inasmuch as ye cannot tell what ye think of my last question, what think ye of the following case? Two sons The former representing common people, the latter representing the hierarchy.

Verses 28-32

§ 114. PARABLE OF TWO SONS, Matthew 21:28-32 .

It was by the conscience of the common people (who were so deeply by them despised as a mass of sinners) that the hierarchy were held in check; and our Lord now in this parable shows his questioners how much superior that unsophisticated common people is in comparison with themselves. The people, having no mock piety to sustain as a substitute for the true, are far more ready to feel their sins and repent than their leaders.

Verse 29

29. I will not He made no pretence of sanctity. He was a plain, defenceless sinner. He repented, and went Having no false righteousness to trust in, when the time of visitation came, he felt his sins, and was ready to feel his guilt and repent.

Verse 30

30. I go, sir He gives a polite answer with a sir to it. He professes obedience; but he substitutes the profession for the practice.

Verse 31

31. Whether of them twain Which of the two. The first The first did the will of his father, not in his first refusal, but in his subsequent repentance and obedience. The publicans and the harlots Not only the common people, but the worst of them. Go into the kingdom of God before you They have no false piety to trust to. They have no false conscience produced by a false system. They are open sinners, and feeling themselves such, they repent and believe.

Verse 32

32. For He now proceeds to make a close and unflinching application.

§ 114. PARABLE OF THE WICKED HUSBANDMEN, Matthew 21:33-46 .

Verse 33

33. Hear another parable You have felt the effect of one, now hear another. Householder The head of a family.

A vineyard A symbol of the field of duty and service of God, customarily used in both the Old Testament and the New. See Deuteronomy 32:32, Isaiah 5:1-7, and Matthew 20:1. Hedged it round about A hedge is a row of perfectly dense thorn bushes, (often in Judea the prickly pear,) planted around a field, to fence it in and exclude all intruders.

A winepress Including the wine vat, which was a square or round vat or pit excavated in the earth, mortared and plastered so as to make it tight like a modern cistern. Over this vat was the wine-press, into which the grapes were heaped, and when the juice was trodden out it flowed into the vat.

Built a tower A tower or observatory in the garden, having a view in all directions, in which a watchman is stationed to guard against robbers. The vineyard represents the Church or fold of God’s service. This must be girt as with a hedge; it must have its ordinances for receiving the flow of the divine nourishment; it must have its towers and watchmen against the assaults of the profane or the incursions of hypocrites. Let it out Leased or rented it, with rent to be paid from the produce. Went into a far country God leaves men in their state of probation to work out their destiny.

Verse 34

34. Time of the fruit drew near The harvest time. In the vineyard of our probation all the time of our responsible years is harvest time; in which we are expected to bring forth fruit to Him who hath planted and let to us the vineyard. But, as applied to Israel, it refers to the period of her history when, Canaan being fully possessed, God sent his prophets to remind his people of their duty. Sent his servants His prophets, with all the means of warning and grace. The servants were sent, as Mark expresses it, to receive of the fruits of the vineyard. Both according to Scripture and Jewish tradition, the prophets whom God sent were persecuted and martyred by ancient Israel. Jeremiah was stoned, and it is said Isaiah was sawn asunder. Hebrews 11:36.

In the present parable three sets of servants are said to be successively sent. In Mark and Luke single servants in succession are specified; but words are so used as to imply that other servants are with them. In the reports of our Lord’s discourses given by the evangelists, the substance is given with more or less verbal sameness as inspiration suggested to the minds. Each is to be viewed as a substantial representation, divinely sanctioned, of our Lord’s essential meaning.

Verse 35

35. Beat… killed… stoned The word beat signifies literally, in the Greek, to flay or skin, which in this case is supposed to be done by beating. To stone signifies to stone to death, the Jewish mode of death for idolatry and blasphemy. Leviticus 22:22; Leviticus 24:16. We have then this climax: that the Jews abused, slew, and executed as enemies of God, the prophets whom God had sent.

Verse 37

37. Last of all… his son Let it be remembered that this parable is uttered on occasion of their demanding by what authority he did these things, (Matthew 21:23.) Jesus first confounds them by asking a question they could not answer, (24-27.) He then propounds a parable, (28-32,) portraying their spirit in asking the question. In the present parable he is obliging them to perceive the answer he could give to their demand for his authority. The same authority that sent God’s messengers of old to your fathers, has in these last days sent to you his Son. They will reverence my son These words represent God’s rightful expectation; that is, the expectation he has a right to have. If a human householder would have such an expectation, much more God has a reason and a right to expect reverence for his Son.

Verse 38

38. This is the heir They confess his being the heir, among themselves; but they utter no such confession to him. Externally they hold him as an intruder, and treat him as a burglar and a robber. Thus with a masterly pencil does our Lord paint these rulers to themselves. In their own hearts they confess this is the heir; in their language and dealing with him they deny his authority, and crucify him as a blasphemer and traitor. By this we are not to understand that God does not foreknow the future wickedness of probationary men; but that he permits yet punishes their withholding what he has a right to expect. Seize on his inheritance These rulers determined to retain the power over Israel. They rejected our Lord as a false claimant of authority, because he would remove the old dispensation and establish the kingdom of God. This would overthrow their own hierarchy. The words expressing the violence of the husbandmen are numerous and graphic: kill, seize, caught, cast, slew. They might nearly all occur in the narrative of Christ’s own apprehension and crucifixion.

Verse 40

40. When the Lord… of the vineyard cometh Alford quotes this phrase as a decisive instance in which the destruction of Jerusalem is called the coming of the Lord. But we reply that the Lord who comes is not the Son, nor the Son of man; but God the Father Almighty. The coming is no way identical with the phrase by which Christ’s comings are expressed; inasmuch as this coming is only a part of the parabolic action by which God’s general providential visitation is typified.

Verse 41

41. They say He compels them to utter their own condemnation. He God. Destroy those wicked men Destroy the Jewish state and nation. His vineyard The Churchdom. Other husbandmen The Gentile Church. According to Luke , the people who stood by when they heard this terrible result exclaimed, God forbid! The fact seems to be that the rulers made their terrible reply in order to seem not to see that the parable was a picture of their own character and destiny. But the people, by their sudden ejaculation, God forbid! showed that they fully understood its awful application. The rulers have now a thorough reply to their question: By what authority doest thou these things?

Verse 42

42. Jesus saith unto them Our Lord now proceeds to hint to them that their first question, with which they opened this debate, was, as has just been said, completely answered. Still under a figure that of a stone rejected, he indicates how he, though by them rejected, would ultimately prove to be Lord of all, whose judgment would grind them to powder. The stone which the builders rejected Psalms 118:22. Note the rapid yet harmonious changes of our Lord’s illustration of the stone. The same stone is first a rejected stone; then, second, a head corner-stone; then, third, a stumbling-stone; and lastly, a stone hurled from a balista.

The stone which the builders reject is one which the architect or workman thinks too unshapely to be worked into the structure, and so casts it off; and this pictures Christ rejected by the Jewish rulers. The head stone of the corner is the large stone placed in the corner of a stone edifice, for the purpose of binding the two walls firmly together. And this describes Christ in his exaltation in the kingdom of God. Our Lord here interrupts the transition of the figure to declare, from Psalm cxviii, that this exaltation of himself was from God; and thus their question as to his authority is completely answered.

Verse 43

43. From you And by this emphatic you he directly implies that they are, in solemn verity, the condemned husbandmen of the parable, and will be subjected to the terrible sentence they have themselves pronounced. Given to a nation A race of people. Our Lord here predicts again the rejection of the Jews and the call of the Gentiles.

Verse 44

44. Fall on this stone He is now a stumbling-stone; such stones as are found abundantly in the stony region around Jerusalem. A man falls over such a stone and gets bruised, or has a limb broken, perhaps; but he may recover himself, and place himself upon the corner-stone. It shall fall In the siege of Jerusalem the stones hurled from the military engines, falling upon the Jews, did terrible execution. Mr. Milman says that the Roman army “threw stones, the weight of a talent, a distance of two furlongs upon the walls. The Jews set men to watch the huge rocks which came thundering down upon their heads. They were easily visible from their extreme whiteness, (this it seems must have been by night;) the watchmen shouted aloud in their native tongue, “The bolt is coming!” on which they all bowed their heads and avoided the blow. The Romans found out this, and blackened the stones, which now taking them unawares, struck down and crushed not merely single men, but whole ranks.”

If our Lord’s words are not sufficiently precise to limit the allusion to the balista, still they receive a forcible illustration from the engine.

Grind him to powder A very unsuitable translation, as there is nothing in the original Greek that signifies either grind or powder. The precise phrase is, shall winnow him. That is, shall scatter him as a winnowing fan scatters the chaff. There is probably an allusion to Daniel 2:34-35, where the great stone scatters the other kingdoms “like the chaff of the summer threshing-floor.”

Thus has our Lord answered the demands of these men for his authority. He is God’s Son, who has come for the fruits of the kingdom. If they reject him, they will yet find that he is Lord of all.

Verse 46

46. They feared the multitude During all his quiet teachings in the temple during the Passion Week, and under his most terrible rebukes, they are, as it were, spell-bound, and unable to lift a hand against him until his work is done. They took him for a prophet As the conscience of the common people was in favour of John the Baptist, so now was it so far on the side of Christ as to receive him, not indeed as the Son, but as a messenger to the vineyard.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Matthew 21". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/matthew-21.html. 1874-1909.
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